Comment: You have to look hard, but there is hope

Mark Duguid joined Carrier as managing director in April 2017. Prior to that he held senior roles at Kuoni, Globespan, MyTravel and Direct Holidays.

Agents, there is light at the end of the tunnel. There’s no word other than “devastating” to describe what we have seen unfold this year. Most will know someone directly impacted by Covid-19 and my own parents were hospitalised early on in the crisis, causing much anxiety in our family (thankfully both fully recovered).

Now the devastation is being felt in our beloved travel industry and it is almost too much to bear. I normally love the networking part of my role, but conversations with agents are tough. 

Without fail, the agents I speak to are utterly exhausted, having worked flat out since March. That travel agents themselves so desperately need a holiday is an irony not lost on me. 

For sales people, not only is the thrill of closing a sale a distant memory, so too is the reality of earning an income. With no revenues, the pressure on agency owners to keep their businesses afloat is obvious and conversations frequently turn to painful decisions on staffing and other cutbacks. 

Before this summer’s quarantine ‘hokey cokey’, there was a real flurry of last-minute bookings and at Carrier we were flat out in July with late breaks to the Med. Travel has an enduring appeal and people will travel again and, crucially for agents, many will want to organise their holidays with someone they trust. During this crisis it is agents who have been accessible when needed, provided guidance and reassurance, handled complex renegotiations with suppliers and ensured that clients’ interests were prioritised at all times. Compare that with faceless OTAs and airline call centres and it’s easy to see a new era of appreciation for agents who demonstrated empathy, honesty and flexibility when it was needed most.

Of course, it is not easy to focus on the future when in the midst of a crisis. Some, like Carrier, are using this time to upskill employees and fine-tune a ‘rebound’ strategy for when demand returns. Some agents I speak to are re-evaluating their model, hibernating for now with a view to returning affiliated to a tour operator like ours for protection. At the moment, it is very much about survival. Undoubtedly we are in for our most challenging winter ever, and not all will make it, but I do believe there is some light at the end of the tunnel if you look hard enough.